Human rights organization highlights Rohingya refugees facing police abuse
Human Rights Watch said Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are reportedly facing extortion, harassment and illegal arrests by the elite police tasked with protecting the community.
The Armed Police Battalion (APBn) operates in camps housing nearly a million members of the stateless minority, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar after a military crackdown that is now the subject of a UN genocide investigation.
But refugees and humanitarian workers told the New York-based agency that safety deteriorated after the unit took charge of camp security in 2020, with some Rohingya telling AFP that abuse had become “normal”.
“Police abuses in the Cox’s Bazar camps have left Rohingya refugees suffering at the hands of the very forces that are supposed to protect them,” Shaina Bauchner, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said earlier Tuesday.
The rights group said it has spoken to dozens of Rohingya refugees living in the sprawling and overcrowded network of camps in the country’s southeast, and has documented at least 16 cases of serious abuse by APBn officers.
The Human Rights Watch report said that the police demanded large bribes from the refugees under the threat of arrest, adding that families are often forced to sell gold jewelry or borrow money to release their unjustly detained relatives.
Bauchner called on the authorities to investigate the allegations and hold the responsible officers accountable.
But the battalion commander, Syed Harunur Rashid, said the report was “questionable”.
“Criminals tell them false facts and (Human Rights Watch) convey them. This is like pleasing criminals,” he told AFP, adding that the unit would investigate if it “receives specific complaints.”
Police acknowledge that violence has escalated in the camps, which are home to armed groups and used as staging posts for regional drug trafficking networks.
At least 20 refugees, including senior community leaders, were killed by armed groups last year as part of a turf war in the settlements.
‘Threatened to move’
Several Rohingya refugees told AFP that police abuse was “rampant”.
Ali Jakar, 20, said: “A few days ago I was returning to the camp with a medical report for my brother from the hospital. APBn officers stopped me at the checkpoint, interrogated me and slapped me.”
Jacker said they stole the equivalent of $50 from him.
“Then they took my mobile phone. They threatened to take action against me if I shared the story with anyone,” he added.
Sitara Bibi, 45, said police extortion was “normal”.
“I had to pay them 3,000 taka ($30) during my son’s marriage. If we don’t pay them, the police will file a drug trafficking case against my son,” she added.
A Rohingya civilian leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that refugees were forced to pay police to move between camps or to enter the camps late at night.
They added, “If someone protests against these violations, they will be arrested.”